Conflict Avoidance: Don’t Let It Ruin Your Business

Last month I sent out a special edition of Ordinary Brilliance that shared a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, who said: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I asked you to send me your stories about doing something that scared you in the service of your own progress and growth.

I got some great responses and want to share one that touched on an issue that is nearly universal: how to deal with conflict constructively.

One of my small business coaching clients wrote that after reading the quote and invitation, she gathered her courage and spoke to a friend whose behavior had been intimidating her for a long time. It ended up being a productive conversation and she and her friend got back on track. Afterward, she thanked me for helping her realize she had the power in her own hands. She faced her fears and acted in spite of them.

A common issue in working with my coaching clients is how to talk with someone about a problem – whether it is about a disagreement you are in the midst of, or it is about an agreement they broke with you.

I recommend to my clients and now to you my subscribers the books Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations both by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler. These are excellent books based on over 25 years of studying 20,000 people who had learned to be masterful communicators through their own trial and error.

Here are a couple of key suggestions from the books to keep in mind:

1. Start by creating safety by confirming mutual purpose and mutual respect. Mutual purpose means you both are working toward a common goal, such as growing a great company or coming up with the best sales promotion.

Mutual respect applies, as well, even if you have different opinions about the situation. If people feel that you don’t respect them, it’s impossible to have a productive conversation. They will start to defend their dignity.

2. Avoid what is called the “fundamental attribution error” (what a mouthful!) where you decide the reason someone is acting they way they are is because of a permanent character flaw, rather than situational reasons. Better to assume this person has good reasons for acting the way they are by asking yourself: “Why would a rational, reasonable person be acting this way?” Better yet, talk to the person and don’t assume you know why they are acting (or have acted) the way they are.

3. Use nonjudgmental, factual language that is based on observable facts. We often confuse our story with the facts. The authors ask you to ask yourself: “Can you see or hear this thing you’re calling a fact? Was it an actual behavior?” Example:

Fact: Your co-presenter gave 95% of the presentation and answered all but one question. Story: Your co-presenter doesn’t trust you.

Conclusions are subjective, so be careful with your language and also see the next tip.

4. Use tentative language: “It sounds like perhaps…” I’m starting to wonder if…” “I’ve noticed something that seems like…” “I know this is probably not true, but…” This is not being timid; rather it helps prevent a strong reaction in the other person. When we use strong black or white language, we can usually count on a strong reaction back.

Check out these books for a lot more guidance on skillfully handling challenging conversations. But whatever you do, don’t avoid challenging situations for too long. As with my subscriber who emailed in, you have business and personal relationships which depend on your doing just that. At the heart of successful business is great communication.

The only way to get great at communication is to practice! That includes stumbling along the way, but like any skill, you do get better. So whether something happened a long time ago or you’re in the midst of it right now, gather your courage, take some new skills, and practice. You have only your limitations to lose and amazing breakthroughs to gain.

© 2014 Anne Alexander, all rights reserved in all media

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